Sunday, August 28, 2011


I suspect that this will be a long post, made even longer because it will start with a story.

Once upon a time, there was a group of children.  They came across some gourds and shakers and rattles and maracas and things, but they didn't know what to do with them.

Eventually, a microphone made itself apparent.  This puzzled the children even more, although there felt there was something vaguely familiar about it all.

Somehow, the children came to realize that shaking the maracas, playing the kazoo, and singing into the microphone seemed to make people happy.  The children felt they were on to something.

Soon, instinct kicked in and the children discovered harmony, lead vocals, and even the theatrical requirements for stage presence.

And so it began, and the children formed a band, grew up, and began calling themselves "Imagination Head."   Eventually, they found themselves playing something called "Nophest" in Atlanta on an August afternoon.

No, I'm just kidding.  It actually went kind of the other way - toward the end of their set at Atlanta's Nophest on Saturday, Imagination Head keyboardist and vocalist Erin Wicker, after admitting that she'd never been more nervous at a gig before ("This is the first time I've ever played in front of my own kids"), let those kids, who up to that point had appeared more interested in a soap-bubble machine than in Mommy's music, play around in front of a mic with some random instruments for one song.  You couldn't really hear all that much of them, but still, it was a delightful, family-friendly touch to a family-friendly, delightful set.

Imagination Head are an enjoyable indie-folk/pop-rock sextet originally from Memphis but now settled into Atlanta.  They have a very nice, strummy, summery sound, rounded out with two guitars, keyboards, occasional xylophone, and a flute.  I had never seen or heard if them before, but their set made me glad that I had made it over to Nophest when I did (3:00 pm) to catch their opening set.

I attended Nophest on Saturday largely as a last trial run before my upcoming trip to make sure everything was in working condition (myself included).  Earlier in the day I had bought some Amtrak tickets, the last logistical part of the preparations that included airline tickets, festival passes, hotel reservations, some new sneakers and jeans, a new camera, some luggage, etc.  My solo working tour of New England earlier in the month was a part of the trial run for at least some of the new gear, but other gear still needed a try-out under festival conditions.  Enter Nophest.

Friday night's performance by The Back Pockets was a part of Nophest, and Saturday's events included several local bands like Imagination Head whom I had never heard of playing outdoors at the patio behind Joe's Coffee in East Atlanta Village.  It was a perfect summer day for the festival.  Despite reports of Hurricane Irene slamming into the North Carolina coast on its way up to New York City and beyond, temperatures in Atlanta were a comfortable high 80s to low 90s, and the humidity was low, at least by Georgia standards.  A nice breeze kicked in most of the day, and the patio behind Joe's offered more shade than not (poor Imagination Head were the only band that had to play while the sun was shining directly onto the makeshift stage).  

By the way, before anyone asks, I have no idea what Nophest actually is - that is, what it's about or what that name means.  It's apparently an East Atlanta music festival of mostly East Atlanta musicians playing at East Atlanta venues.  But other than that, I have no idea.

So, the trial run.  Were my legs up to standing around for five to six hours while hearing different bands play?  Check.  Were the new jeans sufficiently broken in?  Check.  Were my sunglasses and new Converse All-Stars looking cool?  Check.  Were the batteries and accessories included in my Droid, my iPod, and my new Canon?  Check, check, and check.  Everything seemed to be working a-okay, including my ability to enjoy the music of a band of whom I had never heard and from whom I had no idea of what to expect.  

If you're curious, there's an Imagination Head song posted over at Ohm Park that you can download.  There are also some videos on YouTube of the band performing as a quintet in Athens, but since that time they've added flutist and multi-instrumentalist Kara Strauss to the band.  What with it being a trial run and all, I tested out the zoom capabilities of my new camera on Ms. Strauss.

You'd think by that last shot above that I was on the makeshift stage with her, but I was actually a  good 20 to 30 feet away, closer than I'd likely get at a bigger festival, but still encouraging if I plan to get some good concert pictures.  Here's a cool shot of Erin Wicker through the branches off the patio at Joe's.

Drummer P.I. Navarro had a busy day.  After finishing Imagination Head's set, he played for Lacuna M, the next band, as well.  As it turns out, he wasn't just filling in - Mr. Navarro is the drummer for both bands, as well as their booking agent.  

Like Imagination Head before them, I had never heard of Lacuna M before, and I'm not sure I know too much more about them now after seeing them.  All I know is that they used to be named Wighat, and other than being a side-project of Mr. Navarro's, their lead singer is a firebrand named Rubi Cuautle.

Josh Cochrane is their quite capable guitarist.

Their most interesting member, both sonically and visually, was multi-instrumentalist Mookah.  He played a little hand keyboard, various flutes, and percussion, and sang some back-up vocals behind Ms. Cuautle.  With his dreads, dashiki, and touch-of-grey beard, he lent a multi-culti air to the band.

Which couldn't have been more different than the next band, rockabilly and country rockers The Serenaders. I don't know if there's anyone who enjoys multi-cultural music more than I, but that takes absolutely nothing away from the all-American mono-culturalism of The Serenaders sound.  Their capable music was good toe-tapping fun, infused with a great sense of humor, and delivered both professionally and enjoyably.

Fun fact:  members of Atlanta electronic duo Living Rooms were in the audience during The Serenaders' set.

After The Serenaders, I had no idea what to expect from the next band, powerkompany.  That's how they spell it, all one word, lower case letters, and a "k."  Admittedly, I had never heard any of the bands before and had no idea of what to expect from any of them, but based on their name, powerkompany could have been anything from a synth-based kraut-rock outfit (a la Kraftwerk) to a black metal thrash band.  After listening to three new (to me, at least) bands over the past three hours, I was almost ready to hang it up and call it a day, but then I remembered that, this being a trial run and all, I should test my stamina and patience and tolerance a little more, and stay and see what a band called powerkompany would actually sound like.  

I was even more confused as the band set up and two women took to the little makeshift stage dressed like cocktail waitresses at an airport Holiday Inn.  Okay, confused, but more than a little intrigued.  I didn't know what to expect - Top 40 cover songs, maybe? - but I also knew that I wasn't going to leave just yet.

It turns out that powerkompany is the duo of Marie Davon (Venice Is Sinking) and former bluegrass musician Andrew Heaton of Athens, Georgia.  The other young woman, whose name I never got, sang occasional backup and played a little bit of keyboard.  

They were terrific, probably the single most interesting band that I heard all day.  Ms. Davon has a remarkably clear and beautiful voice, and she and Mr. Heaton performed occasionally intricate, compellingly emotional, original compositions.  In addition to singing, Ms. Davon also played keyboards and some ukulele (I'm always a sucker for a girl with a uke), while Mr. Heaton embellished her singing with guitar and violin.  They made good but not distracting use of electronic effects, including some looping/repeater techniques, nicely filling out their songs and allowing Ms. Davon the opportunity to harmonize with her own voice.

Of course, it goes without saying that Ms. Davon is also a captivating beauty, and I soon learned just where the magnification limits of my new camera's zoom lens were.

It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that I wasn't the only one taking a lot of pictures.  There were a lot of photographers - both men and women - shooting pictures throughout their set.  

Here's a picture (below) I took with my Droid for comparison purposes.  In daylight and at wide angle, it's camera performs pretty well.  My new Canon has it beat under low light and in close-up (unless I'm trying to capture an individual lash on Ms. Davon's eye).

Fun fact:  Atlanta internet celebrity Bunny McIntosh was in the audience for powerkompany's set.

It's apparently difficult to sit and play at a keyboard while wearing a tight black mini-dress (not that I've ever tried) without winding up like the unfortunate Angel Deradoorian.

On the final number, Ms. Davon used a phrase looper of some sort or another to build a vocal refrain into a virtual choir, adding more and more emphasis to each added line, but also leaving several measures of silence between the repeated figures.  It made for a good and dramatic finish to a terrific set.

Based on their name alone, The Terror, the next band up could also have been a black metal thrash band, or possibly eyeliner-wearing goths.  Turns out they are a straightforward, hard-rocking power-pop trio with a punkish, slightly countrified, DIY sound (they describe their music as "cowboy death funk"), who gave the audience a surprisingly aggressive and welcome KITA of no-frills rock.

Although they hadn't realized it at the time, after all the ethereal music and glamour and dreaminess of powerkompany's set, the audience needed a good KITA of no-frills neo-punk to bring it back down to earth.  

The Terror's hard-driving sound can largely be credited to their terrific drummer, who kept the proceedings going at a break-neck speed and put the K in KITA, as well as to their bass player, the unsung  hero of many a band.

Their frontman, Ryland Johnson, handled guitar and vocal duties admirably, singing heartfelt songs in an unaffected manner.

Here's one last cell-phone picture thrown in for good measure:

With no disrespect intended for the rest of the proceedings, I decided to call it a day after The Terror.  I had been at Joe's for five hours at that point, seen five new (to me, at least) bands, witnessed a complete turnover in audience and staff, and it was time to feed the cats and get some dinner for myself.  It was already 8:00 pm, and I knew it was unlikely that I'd make it through two more bands to see Lucy Dreams, the only band on the bill that I had heard before.  It was time for me to go and so I did, but with the knowledge that all my preparations for next week's big trip were now finally complete.

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